Naturopath Dr. Haggarty, a fellow of the Medical Academy of Children’s Special Needs, has extensive experience working with children with ADD/ADHD. In this month’s article she discusses her approach to working with children with attention disorders.
More than 10% of children who are school age have been diagnosed with ADHD. It is the most common behavioral diagnosis of children, and the rate of diagnosis increases each year. Most of these children will be treated with prescription medications such as Ritalin or Concerta. Although many children may experience a decrease in symptoms from these medications, parents often have concerns regarding potential side effects. Some of the most common side effects include loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and poor growth.
My approach as a Naturopath in dealing with ADHD is to evaluate the biochemical pathways for each child and determine what is the underlying cause of these behavioral symptoms. Both research and clinical experience show that children benefit from the use of specific vitamins and minerals, dietary changes, and decreasing exposure to toxins. More specifically, the evaluation and support of neurotransmitters can have a huge impact on focus, mood, sleep, and stress management.
Children generally benefit from a well-balanced, whole food diet, low in sugar and processed food, typically prescribed by a Naturopath. However it is also very important to pay attention to regulating blood sugar levels throughout the day, as this can significantly affect mood and one’s ability to concentrate. Certain children may also have food sensitivities that can be identified through lab tests. These sensitivities cause brain fog and/or mood swings. Some children are unable to break down the peptides in gluten, casein and soy, causing an opiate like response in their brain and impairing their ability to concentrate. Such a condition can be evaluated with a simple urine test.
In addition to a healthy and child-specific diet, certain vitamins and mineral deficiencies have been associated with learning delays and children’s ability to focus both in a classroom setting and at home. The most important of these are:
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3 fatty acids
Another supplement I use frequently with ADHD patients is probiotics. A research study that followed 75 infants to the age of 13, who were given probiotics for the first 6 months of their life against those who weren’t. In the group that did not receive probiotics 17% of the children were diagnosed with ADHD. In the group that did receive probiotics as infants NONE of the children were diagnosed with ADHD. As a naturopath, I also consider the overall environment in the GI tract and use tests to evaluate for organisms such as yeast, bacteria and parasites that may affect the neurological system.
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in our brain that control mood, attention, focus and sleep. A urine test can determine the levels of various neurotransmitters in a child’s body and give us a roadmap to using vitamins and amino acids to correct any imbalances that are identified. The most common neurotransmitters I find associated with ADHD symptoms are serotonin, glutamate, dopamine and norepinephrine. Children tolerate amino acid support well, and parents and teachers report noticing an improvement without the side effects often seen from the medications.
Another key focus of my approach as a Naturopath to children’s brain health is to identify and support the removal of any toxins that may affect the neurological system. A study published in Pediatrics in 2010 evaluated 1,139 children and determined those with higher levels of pesticides in the urine were more likely to develop ADHD. The risk of ADHD symptoms is also associated with the amount of lead found in the blood, the higher the concentrations, the greater the risk of a child displaying symptoms of ADHD. It is important to identify any ongoing exposure to these chemicals, but I also use detoxification support such as glutathione, and chelation to help to remove toxins the child has been exposed to previously.
As a Naturopath, I think that it is very important for us to explore the use of natural, safe treatments for our children. Behavioral symptoms are often times a clue to underlying issues within the body, and identifying these issues can not only improve behaviors but also help your child to be the healthiest they can be from a young age.